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The personal website of
Tony Whelan


Family History
End of Life choices
End-of-Life Choices

I am not afraid of dying. There's no hell or heaven in my view, but if I'm wrong about that I feel reasonably sure I'll be tolerated in heaven :)

What does concern me is being unable to live a productive existence because of disease, extreme pain, or loss of competence. For those with intolerable pain, palliative care can often help, but there are some conditions where that just doesn't work.

You can exercise some control over how you are treated in a hospital if you become incapable of communication. Make out an Advance Care Directive specifying what medical treatment you do or do not want in the event of being unable to communicate, and lodge it with your hospital, your doctor and your immediate relatives so they know your wishes and can respect your choices. You can't ask anyone to terminate your life but you can tell them not to pointlessly prolong your death. Find out more about advance care directives in your state or territory through the Advance Care Planning website.

And everyone should prepare an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPOA) specifying who can act on your behalf for medical and for financial matters if you become incapable of communicating. The Advance Care Planning website will have links to information about EPOAs in your jurisdiction.

Advance Care Directives can reduce the chance of being kept alive artificially, but they can't help you to die. If you want to do that peacefully, you need to plan well ahead. I am a member of Exit International and thanks to the courageous work of its founder Dr Phillip Nitschke I learned how to have some control over planning for death. I am also a member of Dying With Dignity (ACT) which works towards changes to the law to allow assisted death in prescribed circumstances.

If my physical or mental faculties are failing or I am otherwise unable to function independently, I do not wish to be kept alive artificially, and I do want a mechanism to allow me to end things gracefully when I'm ready. Better still, if I am physically unable to act and have made it clear in advance that I don't want to live a pointless existence, then a doctor should be able to give me an injection that ends my life.

Some find that shocking. What I find shocking is that most older Australians who wish to end their lives do so by hanging themselves. A length of rope is not illegal to buy, but trying to buy a decent drug to end suffering can send you to jail. The current laws in Australia erect huge barriers to a peaceful and dignified death at a time of one's choosing, and if anyone was to mercifully help another person achieve that end they could go to jail for life.  Although all six states have enacted very limited mechanisms to allow for an assisted death, the narrow restrictions enacted by those legislations means that some people will still suffer needlessly.

The idea of introducing right-to-die legislation is frequently attacked by people who claim its a slippery slope. The "slippery slope" argument has been used by opponents of change to argue against virtually every modern reform, from giving women the vote, to decriminalising gay sex, to opposing gay marriage. It isn't an argument, its an excuse. If you don't want the right-to-die yourself, that's fine, but please don't stand in the way of those who want to have that option.

Quoting Peter FitzSimons: "I will decide how I leave this world, and the circumstances in which I go. And my right to do so trumps your right to tell me I canít"

© Tony Whelan © 2008-2023
This page last updated on22 December 2022